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Credibility will be key to winning the immigration debate

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

As those immersed in the immigration debate configure their tactical strategy to reform a currently unsatisfactory system, both major political ideologies face the prospect of losing credibility in winning over critically-thinking voters.

Over the holiday weekend, the NBC Los Angeles news affiliate reported that an immigrant rights group orchestrated an effort to disrupt a Los Angeles Police Department DUI checkpoint, asserting that the operation acts in part to unfairly impound the vehicles of illegal immigrants who are without a government issued license.  Ron Gochez of the Southern California Immigration Coalition, according to the NBC report, said that illegal immigrants don't have the same advantage as drunk drivers to retrieve their car from the impound yard. This is due to illegals not possessing a valid license or the necessary fees with which to retrieve their car. Impounded cars, as a result, are sold and turn a profit for the city of Los Angeles.

Gochez argued that officers at DUI checkpoints should leave those illegal immigrant drivers alone if they are not driving under the influence of alcohol.  Officers in Los Angeles, under a policy established in 1979, do not ask for the immigration status of lawbreakers under Special Order 40. So, when Mr. Gochez suggests that law enforcement is unfairly targeting illegal immigrants by virtue of their undocumented status, such an assessment couldn't be further from the truth.

Furthermore, it is the duty of police officers statewide to ensure that those operating motor vehicles are abiding by the rules of the road, whether or not a respective driver is an illegal immigrant. If the discovery of violating highway laws comes at a DUI checkpoint, an officer would be wrongly forfeiting his duty of enforcing existing law. Officers are constantly patrolling the streets to ensure that drivers are up to par with current DMV regulations as well.

In order to understand Mr. Gochez's position, however, it's necessary examine the platform of his organization.The Southern California Immigration Coalition supports full legalization for all illegal immigrants. Workplace enforcement under Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as a guest worker program are unacceptable policies. These two policies are explicitly at odds with the goals of the Dream Act and even with the guest worker program proposed under President George W. Bush.

An organization that uses methods to cripple law enforcement's abilities in order to make a political statement does a disservice to more mainstream immigrants looking for a sensible reform solution. For immigration advocates not on par with the goals of the Southern California Immigration Coalition, it'd be best for their cause if they denounced such behavior, so as to not be lumped together. Indeed, this is absolutely essential if the more mainstream immigrants who came here illegally in the first place want to demonstrate that they desire to be trustworthy, law-abiding citizens.  Otherwise, their silence on the actions of the immigration group this past weekend event conveys a tacit endorsement of being a nuisance to local authorities. 

Likewise, Republicans are in danger of losing credibility on implementing effective immigration policy. The party demonstrated this when they voted to slash border security as part of their overall $60 billion dollar budget cut proposal.  For a party that campaigned on strengthening the nation's borders with the Arizona fiasco last year, the latest move appears inconsistent with those earlier remarks and also makes it appear as if their Democratic colleagues are more hawkish on immigration enforcement (although some would argue that more $ spent doesn't always equate with better policy).

Republicans must demonstrate why and how immigration enforcement can be accomplished with a leaner budget. In the spirit of fiscal conservatism, the right must persuade the American people that a bigger border budget doesn't necessarily mean a more fortified border. Otherwise, voters will take all previous talk as another sleight of hand to score political points against their political opposites.

As both sides continue to spar over immigration, at the state level with the California Dream Act and at the national level with federal immigration measures, credibility and rational debate will be the 1-2 knockout punch in winning public opinion.

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